Broadcom Corp. is on a 12-month track to condense to one
giant chip all of the circuits necessary for General Instrument Corp.'s advanced
Broadcom, the leading supplier of chipset solutions for
digital set-tops and cable modems, recently signed a four-year contract to supply chips to
GI under which GI will buy a percentage of its key silicon from Broadcom, up to 45 percent
in the year 2000.
Broadcom will also license GI's MPEG-2 decoding
algorithms to round out what it calls the "back end" of its silicon suite.
"It's a pretty significant move for us, to move
beyond the front-end QAM [quadrature amplitude modulation] receiver and into the back end
of the set-top," said Tim Lindenfelser, vice president of marketing for Broadcom.
"It gives us a critical component for our integration road map."
Cable operators consistently mention silicon integration as
one of the most important factors that will shave costs off pricey digital set-tops.
"This is all part of our cost-reduction effort,"
said David Fritch, senior manager of marketing and strategy for GI's Digital Video
GI's nod to Broadcom also marks its shift away from
SGS Thomson, which had been producing GI's MPEG-2 decoding chips.
The back end Broadcom licensed also handles AC-3 audio
decoding and an NTSC (National Television Systems Committee) encoder to convert a digital
signal back to an analog format so that it displays well on analog TV sets.
"Ultimately, we'll take all that, integrate it
with [64 or 256] QAM, and have a single-chip set-top," Lindenfelser said.
That means that the only technology pieces that fall
outside of the chip consolidation boundaries are conditional access and encryption, which
are kept separate for security reasons. Central processing chips, like the 233 MIPS
(millions of instructions per second) silicon GI recently agreed to buy from QED Inc., and
memory will also remain separate.
To start, Broadcom will supply GI with a two-chip solution
for use in GI's DCT-1000 and -2000 series boxes.
"Then, in the next class, what we need to do is to
improve the graphics for GI's DCT-5000 class of boxes," so that content coming
from the Internet looks good on TV screens, Lindenfelser said.
Last year, Broadcom acquired San Jose, Calif.-based Azuron
Systems, which makes advanced graphics chips.
The one, big chip -- which includes upstream modulation,
downstream demodulation, a standards-based cable modem, MPEG-2 decoding and graphics --
will come out about a year from now, Broadcom said.